They lined up in a long row emerging from the large opening of the ship single file. The uniforms were crisp, immaculate, and filled to the rim with medals that reflected the sunlight so intensely that the other line of bodies had to duck to avoid the blindness of having the sun poke them in the eyes.
They marched with such precision that it was nearly impossible to tell if they were machines or living creatures. Knees were pulled up to exactly the same height with each step, the distance of each step equal, over and over again, one man the same as the next without exception.
But there was a single indication that emphasized just how far from machines the soldiers were. It was something they couldn’t teach a machine or robot to do, even over the hundreds of years they had been trying to make androids to look exactly like their human counterparts.
Each of the soldiers wore an exact expression, but it wasn’t something that was taught in their military training. Instead, each of them had developed it as a matter of their beliefs and traditions. The difference was a sneer that was so wicked it could almost be considered mean just to look at someone else. The mouth was twisted up on one side in such a deformity that it looked like they had all suffered the same accident to their faces, or perhaps the same stroke. Teeth shown through on the side of the lifted lip. The eyes were narrowed to slits that dared you to make a comment of any derogatory nature. It was evil-looking as anything that Hollywood could create with gobs of plastic and cans of paint.
Men from the other line barely resembled the soldiers coming out of the door. Their bodies were several sizes, tall, short, lean and fat. Their clothing resembled their attitudes and lack of discipline, it hung loosely and in many cases crooked. Buttons were open on some shirts, pants caught in the tops of their shoes, keeping them shorter than the other leg.
These were supposed to be highly dressed soldiers that were facing the new arrivals, soldiers of many years of experience, toughness, dedication, and undoubted lethality. In addition to the differences from their counterparts, they also carried long rifles. They were presently held outward from their bodies, the bottom of them outward in a show of friendliness. These weapons were the show of force that supposedly equaled the sneer on the other soldier’s faces.
There was nothing random to the facial expression that they all wore. It was a practiced, polished, and a respected reflection of just who they were, practiced throughout their peoples. It was their intention and their pride.
The lines equaled. One end matched the other and one soldier lined up with one from the other force. Similar to the soldiers who had been waiting in the sun for hours for the new group to arrive, they planted a toe slightly behind them, then pushed off and pivoted until they faced directly in front of the soldier that had been next to them as they marched into position a second ago. Their bodies snapped to a stiff upright position, arms at their sides.
The next maneuver was to bring their arms up, leaving their elbows against their sides, but putting the upper arm at about a forty-five degree angle from their bodies and to their sides. The backs of their hands were nearly in the face of the soldiers next to them. They stopped in this position while somehow the sneer became even more wicked, the left side of their mouths climbing even higher on their faces until there were wrinkles from the corners of their mouth from the severe stretching.
It was difficult to tell, but this was not just a face put on to scare their enemies. It was reflective of their attitudes. There was no respect for the soldiers on the other side of the line. There was no respect for this whole planet, one which had never even accomplished space travel, much less a society that honored the upper class as much as they did. The only acceptable fact about this new planet they visited was that they were at least on their way to keeping the elite separated from the masses. These visiting soldiers were examples of the lower class that had long ago accepted their position willingly, although it had been a tradition for so long they had never known any other kind of living other than servitude.
Suddenly the precision of their marching was reflected in their saluting. Without a single sound every single member of the new arrival brought their hands across, swinging them by the elbows, across in front of them. Of course the soldiers in front of them were the target of this salute. Their faces were severely stung by an open hand brought quickly moving as the arms pivoted by the elbows.
The sound would have been one single sound if not for the differences in the heights of the victimized soldiers. Some were struck on the chin, and even on the neck, while others were nearly knocked down as the hand struck them across the forehead, bending their necks in the unexpected fusillade of hands.
It didn’t stop with a single slap. The sneers couldn’t get any larger due to the inability of their skin having being pulled as far as it could, but the eyes told the story of enjoyment as they repeated the gesture several times.
Some soldiers went down to their knees, their faces burning and eyes tearing as well as being knocked down by the repeated strikes across the head and shoulders. They glanced along the line and noticed that their side of it was being pummeled and beaten. It was not something that was supposed to happen to a military unit. Some couldn’t take it either on a physical or on a honorable level. They were getting their asses whipped.
No one was sure where it started, but shots began exploding in the ears of all men of either side. Finally some of the newcomers were falling and lying still on their backs. There was an explosion of rounds being fired and more and more of them stumbled or were blown off balance by the lead shells entering their bodies from one side and lifting them right off the ground.
It was only a minute before there was blood everywhere on the ground. Even a few soldiers with the weapons were wounded, caught in the crossfire as some aliens were still staggering around and wandered between those who were shooting.
Everyone was gasping and some collapsed to the ground and sat there with exhausted lungs and expended shells. The carnage made many of them sick. They had been trained to kill, some had even done it before, but many couldn’t take the evil scene.
Only those inside the ship understood what had caused the tragedy. They understood the same code of conduct that the dead men had believed in before being slaughtered. It was simply a matter of how one treated those of a lesser standing. They had been slapped when it was their turn. Some even enjoyed it as a sign that told them just where they stood, ending the ambiguity that confused them and kept them in a nervous state. It was a rite of passage that couldn’t be circumvented if society was going to survive.
These new soldiers were going to be please by learning their position, suffering a little indignity in the meantime. The wicked sneering was required to inform them of their coming schooling, keeping them from ducking or otherwise avoiding a carefully learned procedure that had been practiced for centuries.
Rifles were aimed at the open door as it began moving, its door lifting and becoming a narrow slot which then closed with a hail of bullets bouncing harmlessly but noisily into the machine, some more dropping into the dirt in front of it. In minutes the ship lifted and quickly disappeared over the horizon. The casualties bled until they stopped breathing.